10 tips from carers: how to care for yourself when you’re caring for someone else

Here are tips from 10 members of our Expert Voices Group on how you can look after your own health and wellbeing while you’re caring for a loved one with a terminal illness this Christmas.

Kim cared for her husband Chris, who had bowel cancer

1) Trust yourself and know that it’s ok to cry.

“Tears are not a weakness. We're human, and we feel the way we do because of love.

“And trust your instinct. You know the person you're caring for probably better than anyone else in the world. If something isn’t right, or you have a feeling of what will benefit them, go with it. You're probably right. ” Kim

2) Lots of laughter can help.

“My wife Edith had motor neurone disease and lost her voice. She had this speech app on her iPad that had different voices and we used to laugh about that. Strangely enough, we did laugh a lot. It helped to keep all our spirits high.” Bill

Bill cared for his wife Edith, who had motor neurone disease

3) Be honest about your own needs.

“Don’t make out to health professionals that you’re coping when you’re not. I’m always cheery no matter what. Outwardly, I looked like I was coping but inside I was a mess. My sense of humour got me through but sadly I didn't get the help I needed.” Nicky 

Nicky cared for her mum, who had Alzheimer's disease

4) Keep your batteries charged.

“In the beginning, my biggest mistake was not accepting help, and I tried to do far too much. So, take time for yourself, even if it’s just lunch with friends or a walk in the park.” Susan

5) Keep family and friends informed.

“One of the things I did that I would wholeheartedly recommend, was that I kept family and friends updated with regular group emails. From their point of view this meant that everyone got the same story at the same time, which reduced speculation and well-meaning gossip.

“From my point of view, it meant that I didn’t have the stress of having to keep repeating myself, nor of wasting time better spent with Mike.” Hilary 

Hilary cared for her husband Mike, who had pancreatic cancer

6) Say ‘yes’ to help.

“Your emotions are all over the place, and you’re worried and stressed. The person you’re caring for may refuse help but you have to think about yourself and say ‘yes’ to help.

“Be clear to the person you’re caring for and explain why accepting help is vital. My other advice is to listen to the professionals  don't think you can do it all yourself because it will take its toll in years to come.” Sian

Sian cared for both of her parents towards the end of their lives

7) Accept kindness from others.

“Listen to those who can see objectively how you’re coping  for example, my children were able to see and tell me when I needed more help with their dad.

“Find someone to talk to about things that distress you so they don’t build up. The more you can feel reassured that you’re doing everything you can, the less likely it is that feelings of regret will trouble you later.” Kathy

8) Look for guidance. 

“Get advice from your GP and nurses, and make use of resources and information you can find online  such as the self-help videos on Marie Curie’s website.

“Find out as much as you can about the physical and practical side of caring, such as medical and dietary needs, the right bedding, personal care items and know-how. Ask other carers for their guidance on how they cope.” Shital 

Shital cared for her mum, who had acute myeloid leukaemia

9) Remember you have to be well to be a carer. 

“The most important lesson I learned as a carer was that the situation can get much worse if I become unwell.

“Get friends or family to do a rota of visits so you have some time for yourself. Let them know how much you need that break and how important it is for you and for the person you care for.” Rose 

Rose cared for her father who had various illnesses over the years

10) And finally…Don’t be too hard on yourself.

“Learn to accept you’ll have days when you feel like you can cope and others when you question every decision. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to take some time out, even a five-minute one.” Red 

Need to chat? Support is just a phone call away

If you or someone you know is affected by a terminal illness, you can contact the Marie Curie Support Line for free on 0800 090 2309 for confidential support and practical information.

You can also find more information on our website about looking after your own needs as a carer and taking breaks from your caring role.

If you feel that you need more support, you’re entitled to a carer’s assessment where you can talk to someone about your situation and get the right support for your needs. This can include things like giving you breaks from caring, getting adaptations in your home, and organising carers to help the person you're looking after with dressing and washing.